Meet America’s Oldest Minor Leaguer

Andy Tracy is 37. He’s been married for 10 years. He has two kids. And he’s playing minor-league baseball in Reno.

The average age of a minor leaguer in Triple A is 27. As you move down the levels, the number drops—24 in Double A, 22 in Single A, and 20 in rookie ball.

The minors, for most, are a place to learn the ins and outs, to hone your skills before the big show. It’s a place to rehab an injury. It’s where you go to get your swing back or work on your pitching motion.

Whatever it is, it’s supposed to be a rest stop. It’s fleeting, temporary. At least, that’s what you want it to be.

For some, though, the minors are home. The majors are the rest stop—a spotless, shiny, really expensive rest stop with Kobe beef instead of Roy Rogers. Sure, some get each Spring Training—in the American tropic or the Southwest. Pitchers and catchers. Spirits bright, possibilities supposedly endless. But then, every year, when rosters are finalized before Opening Day, it’s back to Reno or Tacoma or Scranton.

It’s back to being a secondary star in a secondary city.

During the season, maybe there’s an injury here or a suspension there. You get your cup of tea, but it’s not much more. You bounce around from franchise to franchise, living a life of impermanence, hanging on to a dream or to a skill, waiting for a break, waiting for your shot. It never comes. Or when it does, it doesn’t last.

But maybe it’s not so bad.

♦◊♦

Andy Tracy plays first base for the Reno Aces, the Triple-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks. He’s 37 and turns 38 in December. According to Minor League Baseball (MiLB), he’s the oldest American position player in the entire minor league system.

In 16 seasons, he’s played for the Crocs, the Hammerheads, and the Zephyrs. Hell, he’s even been an IronPig. All in all, he’s played for 11 minor league teams and one in Japan.  He’s tallied 5,298 minor-league at-bats, playing in 1,511 minor-league games.

In the same time, he’s also played for three major league teams: the Expos, Rockies, and Phillies. He’s had 227 major league at-bats. He’s played 149 games in the big leagues. More than half of them came in 2000, when he played 83 games with the Expos. He hasn’t played more than 15 games since 2001.

So, um, what the hell is this guy doing?

He’s 37, and he’s playing baseball in Reno. His family lives in Columbus. He has a wife of ten years, a four-year-old boy, and a two-year-old girl. He’s riding on coach buses each week, getting daily meal stipends in cities like Fresno and Sacramento. Why keep going?

Well, he’s probably making a decent living, but it’s more than that.

“I still believe I can help a big league team. That’s why I’m still playing,” Tracy told me. “The day I believe that I can’t, I would probably walk away from it. I think I can still help a big league team off the bench.”

Tracy very well might be able to. He’s started off the season well. He’s hitting .389 through six games—a very small sample size. He’s been a minor league All-Star the past three seasons. But he still hasn’t played a major-league game since 2009.

You see, this story was supposed to be about the oldest guys in the minors. Raul Chavez, Brett Tomko, and Marc Kroon are all 38—older than Tracy—but none of them wanted to talk to me. And can you blame them?

Hi, would you like to talk about how you almost made it? What about how you failed? Maybe a few questions about how you were never good enough? Or possibly something about how you couldn’t let go?

But Tracy spoke to me, and I think that says something about him. It says something about his career and, really, about how he’s come to terms with it and how it’s not a failure. You talk to Tracy and you get the feeling that this guy was meant to be the oldest player in the minor leagues.

And I mean that in that best way possible.

♦◊♦

Tracy grew up in Bowling Green, Ohio, as the youngest of five brothers. He fell in love with baseball at a young age, after following around his older brothers. He played baseball and football at Bowling Green State University, but still dreamed of one day making it to the big leagues. That dream hardened into reality in 1996 when the Montreal Expos drafted Tracy in the 16th round.

Maybe he never developed into a full-time major leaguer. Maybe he never made an All-Star game. Maybe he never even got a fair shot. But despite all that, he still loves the game, all these years later.

“I’ve played for 16 years,” Tracy says. “I think it’s kind of an honor that I played this long and have been able to stick it out this long. I’m doing something I love, and I love being in the game.”

The real world scares him, but he’s not there yet. He’s still got to play. That’s all he knows. That’s all he’s ever done.

Now, Tracy wishes he wasn’t the oldest guy in the minors, but he doesn’t reject it, either. It would be easy to give the next hotshot on a fast track to the majors the cold shoulder. Tracy’s worked his ass off for 16 years for less than 200 games. Some of these guys get to the big leagues just a few months out of college.

Tracy, though, wants to be that veteran leader that every manager says every clubhouse needs.

“Obviously, I wish I had more time in the big leagues, but the more people I can help—if they want to pick my mind, learn things—it’s awesome because it means they’re gonna be more open to things in the future.”

Tracy’s wife has been with him for most of his minor-league journey, and she’s put no pressure on him to move on. Neither have friends or any other family, he says.

It’s not that he’s hanging on to something that’s not there. He’s honest about his own abilities. In baseball, numbers can quantify almost anything. At the end of each season, Tracy looks at those numbers and decides if they’re good enough … regardless of the decisions the front offices make. If he’s succeeding in his eyes, then he comes back.

“If I wasn’t still using my tools and didn’t have good numbers,” Tracy says, “I would probably be out of the game right now. That’s one reason I came back and played this year. I had a chance to get out of the game, but I still wanted to play, maybe, one more year. If I don’t put up the numbers, then I’ll probably be out of the game.”

Even at 37, when baseball’s gone, there’s still more. Tracy hopes to stay involved in the game once his playing days are done. The real world scares him, but he’s not there yet. He’s still got to play. That’s all he knows. That’s all he’s ever done.

“This year could be my last. That wouldn’t bother me. I’ve put it all on the line. I’ve played hard for a long time. That’s all you can do.”

♦◊♦

Read more Men at Work:

Dacus Thompson: Career Changers

Tim Donnelly: In Defense of Dating Your Coworker

Ted Cox: 11 Rules for Working Out of a Coffee Shop

Brian Stuart: Working for the Woman

Hugo Schwyzer: The Myth of Male Inflexibility

Mark Oppenheimer: Life Lessons From My Alcoholic Boss

John Olympic: What It’s Like to Work in Walmart Hell

Tom Matlack: The Illusion of Success

Morra Aarons-Mele: How to Work From Home

Ryan O’Hanlon: Meet America’s Oldest Minor Leaguer

♦◊♦


—Photo Brent Moore/Flickr; Express-Times/Bruce Winter

 

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About Ryan O'Hanlon

Ryan O'Hanlon is the managing editor of the Good Men Project. He used to play soccer and go to college. He's still trying to get over it. You can follow him on Twitter @rwohan.

Comments

  1. Great story I’m going to have my kids read this one!

    • I have had the great pleasure of seeing Andy play ball while with the Iron Pigs. He is a great guy. Always plays 100%+ and truly enjoys the game. He is also one of the friendliest players in the league. I will miss seeing him play in the International League this year but I wish him the best and can say that any major league team would benefit from his enthusiasm, drive, love for the game and skills… he is an excellent roll model for any young player coming up..everyone could learn much from him…thanks for the article.. nicely done

  2. Great article, but I am not sure Brett Tomko is considered someone who “almost made it”. They guy has made over $21 million dollars in his career. Regardless of not having a HOF career, I think most of the guys similar to Andy Tracy would take his bank account.

  3. Heather Kubasak says:

    I went to college with Andy, and am great friends with his wife, Tiffany! I was in her wedding and she in mine. I know Andy very well and he is probably the hardest working person I know. Not only that he is a great husband, father, son and friend. I have had the many pleasures of seeing him play, and he has such a talent for the game. I am proud to say that Andy is a good friend of mine~!

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Ryan O’Hanlon has his story today over at The Good Men Project. And Tracy sounds like a good man. Like Crash Davis wanting no mention of his minor league home record in the Sporting News, the Oldest Player in the Minors is not normally the sort who would want attention drawn to the fact that he hadn’t made it. And as O’Hanlon notes, other minor league old timers he wanted to interview declined. [...]

  2. [...] Ryan O’Hanlon: Meet America’s Oldest Minor Leaguer [...]

  3. [...] Ryan O’Hanlon: Meet America’s Oldest Minor Leaguer [...]

  4. [...] Ryan O’Hanlon: Meet America’s Oldest Minor Leaguer [...]

  5. [...] Ryan O’Hanlon: Meet America’s Oldest Minor Leaguer [...]

  6. [...] Ryan O’Hanlon: Meet America’s Oldest Minor Leaguer [...]

  7. [...] Ryan O’Hanlon: Meet America’s Oldest Minor Leaguer [...]

  8. [...] league baseball. I grew up in a minor league town and have kept a special place in my heart for the players who toil in obscure places like Kinston and Quad [...]

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